The Unbearable Banishment: Dat 'ole black theater magic

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dat 'ole black theater magic

Here's some opening dialog that I lifted from a New York Times fluff piece about the excellent new production of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones that's about to open at the Irish Rep.

Who dare whistle dat way in my palace? Who dare wake up de emperor? I’ll git the hide frayled off some o’ you niggers sho’!

Imagine 1:15 minutes of that! It's a ballsy show that's presented exactly as O'Neill wrote it and I think these guys are going to take some heat for the manner in which the main character is portrayed. They throw every racial stereotype that blacks have been fighting against for decades onto the stage. But if you can hang with it, you're in for a hell of a ride.

The show is a hallucinatory nightmare. The sequences of the Emperor, Brutas Jones, escaping through the jungle are eerily realized. Kudos to the stage, sound and lighting guys. They even employ creepy puppets to depict a dead man, a slave auction and various jungle horrors. John Douglas Thompson is excellent as the Emperor. Lotsa luck to him.

I'm no O'Neill scholar but this seems a very unlikely play for him to write. I think it was his first success.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is brave to produce a show such as this, as it was written/intended. but doesn't it help put it in perspective? it is our history, right or wrong. denying/burying historical glimpses may not be the answer.

when my kids were 9 & 11, we were at the Smithsonian American History Museum. I made them sit at a counter marked "Whites Only". Asked them to imagine that world... and told them that it was how things were in the south when i was a baby...

shouldn't try to pretend that things were different. history is history.

October 15, 2009 at 11:50 AM  

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